Polycythemia vera: historical oversights, diagnostic details, and therapeutic views

Ayalew Tefferi, Alessandro M. Vannucchi, Tiziano Barbui

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Polycythemia vera (PV) is a relatively indolent myeloid neoplasm with median survival that exceeds 35 years in young patients, but its natural history might be interrupted by thrombotic, fibrotic, or leukemic events, with respective 20-year rates of 26%, 16%, and 4%. Current treatment strategies in PV have not been shown to prolong survival or lessen the risk of leukemic or fibrotic progression and instead are directed at preventing thrombotic complications. In the latter regard, two risk categories are considered: high (age >60 years or thrombosis history) and low (absence of both risk factors). All patients require phlebotomy to keep hematocrit below 45% and once-daily low-dose aspirin, in the absence of contraindications. Cytoreductive therapy is recommended for high-risk or symptomatic low-risk disease; our first-line drug of choice in this regard is hydroxyurea but we consider pegylated interferon as an alternative in certain situations, including in young women of reproductive age, in patients manifesting intolerance or resistance to hydroxyurea therapy, and in situations where treatment is indicated for curbing phlebotomy requirement rather than preventing thrombosis. Additional treatment options include busulfan and ruxolitinib; the former is preferred in older patients and the latter in the presence of symptoms reminiscent of post-PV myelofibrosis or protracted pruritus. Our drug choices reflect our appreciation for long-term track record of safety, evidence for reduction of thrombosis risk, and broader suppression of myeloproliferation. Controlled studies are needed to clarify the added value of twice- vs once-daily aspirin dosing and direct oral anticoagulants. In this invited review, we discuss our current approach to diagnosis, prognostication, and treatment of PV in general, as well as during specific situations, including pregnancy and splanchnic vein thrombosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3339-3351
Number of pages13
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology
  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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